Back to the Future

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Stylist Team
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Reader columnist Jo-ann Fortune, a fashion and retail editor from Brighton who launched, explains how the nostalgic Noughties changed fashion for the better.

Being a huge fan of Sixties style, and fascinated by the decade that saw such dramatic and exciting cultural change, I’ve often regretted the fact that I was born too late to experience it first-hand.

Instead, the Nineties acted as the backdrop to my formative years, and while the grunge cool of the decade is currently enjoying a revival, my style at the time lacked any direction or definition.

A tight top and flared jeans seemed suitable attire for any occasion, and while I engrossed myself in everything to do with The Beatles, patient friends and family accompanying me three times to The Beatles Story in Liverpool, and studied the looks in my Mary Quant makeup book, dressing like I belonged in a different era wasn’t something I was brave enough to try out in rural Yorkshire.

Then the Noughties arrived, bringing with them in the early years yet more nondescript, and at times downright disastrous, personal fashion choices.

But at some point around the decade’s half way mark a change occurred; a cultural shift that helped to define an era as well as a fashion movement. Suddenly, instead of looking forward, fashion fans realised that you could be equally, if not more, creative by looking back. And it was with this epiphany that I became one of them – a fan of fashion as a way of expressing and defining myself.

As designers looked to their archives for style inspiration and celebs started to seek out not just any designer dresses, but ‘vintage’ designer dresses for red carpet events, it was as though we had been given the key to life’s dressing up box.

With second-hand shopping gradually working its way into mainstream culture, decade-defining styles from some of the most exciting eras in fashion were resurrected at prices that didn’t rinse the student loan. And it was liberating.

Suddenly, instead of looking forward, fashion fans realised that you could be equally, if not more, creative by looking back

No longer did I have to spend hours fruitlessly searching for standout pieces in the generic high-street shops that I could barely afford. After all, why be limited by new mass-produced designs that didn’t inspire me when I could pick and choose from over five decades of individual gems with which I could create a truly unique style?

After years of being intimidated and overwhelmed by the mainstream retail giants, I started to spend more and more of my free time in charity shops, searching for the Sixties shifts I’d admired on Pattie Boyd and Twiggy.

This shift in fashion focus, and a move to Brighton with its wealth of vintage boutiques, flea markets, charity shops and general culture of creativity, meant that I could indulge my new love of retro as much as my meagre journalist wage would allow.

Even the high-street chains began to catch onto this new fashion phenomenon; style revivals injecting some much-needed inspiration into brand new collections. Forties’ floral prints, Fifties’ full-skirts and Sixties’ Peter Pan collars are among the styles currently adorning items made to fit today’s figures.

So, while I wasn’t able to enjoy the Sixties style revolution as it happened, in some ways I’m glad.

With the luxury of hindsight, I can take from the decade what I like, without experiencing the pain of social change or the fashion faux pas inevitable in any ten year period.

Not only that, I can lift elements from the other eras I’ve learnt more about through fashion, TV and film nostalgia-fests.

If you didn’t know who they are, photos of today’s style stars, such as Alexa Chung, Kate Moss and Daisy Lowe, could have you believe that they were shot in decades past. These are Noughties icons; stars of a time which will be remembered for the fact that fashion looked backwards in order to move forward.

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Picture credit: Getty Images